Life in the Slow(er) Lane

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(Re-)Connected up with a bunch of folks from the past over the preceding week – possibly going all the way back to third grade. Still waiting to hear if Fred Foote is THE Fred Foote with whom Michelle Becker and I went to school at Volta in the early 60s (she and I both moved to Skokie the same summer – unbeknownst to each other until we found ourselves standing side-by-side on the first day of 5th grade).  Had a couple of long phone conversations with Fred Crivlare (drummer from the H.S. band days). What a joy. He’s still playing, which was good to hear.

It’s been a bit of an exercise for memory cells that have been sleeping for years, if not decades. Fun, nonetheless. Scanned/posted a bunch of pix and, in the process, was made tangibly aware of how life has slowed down and sped up at the same time… I swear the last three years went by in about 6 mos. but it takes me twice as long to get upstairs these days as it did 40 years ago.

Speaking of sleeping brain cells, I’m slowly nudging some keyboard cells into action. We did end up getting the Yamaha portable grand (see previous post) and I’ve probably already racked up about 100 hours on the thing.



It’s quite fun, sounds great, and hooks up just the way I need it to for PianoMarvel and recording my Berklee stuff (Blues and Rock Keyboard Techniques, which started last week) for submission. After less than three months with PM, I’m now able to rip through the “student” (i.e., shorter, simplified left hand) version of The Entertainer, which is going to sound infinitely lame to the keyboard guys out there, but I’m pretty stoked about it nonetheless. As folks like Bob Bruning and my brother Tony know, I’ve had a weird mental block regarding written music for a long time, so reading and playing this stuff – especially on a new instrument – is an achievement. I’ll take it. (Click here if the player widget doesn’t appear below). The accompaniment you hear is the stuff one plays along with when doing the PianoMarvel lessons. Nice system.

Meanwhile, I’ve had the chance over the last week to work with Tony on some of his and Amy’s original stuff, which has been great fun. They’re churning out some really excellent tunes! I’ll wait until he thinks things are ready before posting anything.

Lots more here for those new to the site. Leave a comment if you come by!

Digital Performer 8 – Windows at last! But… ready for prime time?

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Ben Newhouse and Brad Hatfield both made copious use of Digital Performer in various in-class demos. I was jealous at the apparent ease with which they were able accomplish some tasks like matching shifting tempo of a project to a live performance, use of the conductor track for high-level project control, etc. I’ve been on the lookout for a Windows version since.

Well, the Windows 7 version is out now and I’m in the process of evaluating the 30-day Demo. Fun times.

BTW, I’m running this eval on a three-plus-year-old “Quad Xtreme” system from ADK: Core i7 920 OC’d to 3.4GHz, 12 GB RAM, multiple OS, Data, Audio and Sample drives, 27” and 2o” displays, no special input devices beyond a standard keyboard, gaming mouse and an old Roland PC-200 MIDI keyboard controller fed through a Presonus FireStudio Mobile (which drives two KRK Rokit5’s for audio output). This application has more functions than anyone could possibly use, so I’ll simply be discussing reactions as I do a basic eval.

First impression: this early port of DP is to Windows DAWs what Blender is to Windows 3D graphics applications. It is not only very non-conventional with regard to terminology (“chunks”? “bundles”?), but also its basic functionality is different from a conventional Windows app. In fact, it’s just this side of user-alien, and definitely requires a shift of perspective to get comfortable with it. I’m not there yet.

For instance, right-clicking doesn’t always work intuitively, Alt-click is used to stand in for the Mac’s one-button-mouse Option-click. Quite often I will Alt-click to bring up a preferences setting and the Preferences window flashes briefly, only to be immediately hidden behind the main window. Hmmm… Double-clicking can also be used for this function in some cases (e.g., to bring up a menu for a button), but the double-click speed is apparently programmatically monitored, not driven by Windows messaging, as it’s not consistent. Hovering over an unknown UI element does nothing… for a moment; then, unexpectedly, a tooltip will appear. Or not.

These are all symptoms of a port “in progress” and they just make operation… cumbersome. This alone makes me inclined to feel that the Windows version – while welcome – really is not yet ready for professional use where deadlines or other factors turn these idiosyncrasies into genuine annoyances. And when cost is considered, well, Reaper looks as good and functions as well.

The download and install of the Demo went great. I was pleased to see that it set up both the 32- and 64-bit versions. At this time I believe Apple STILL hasn’t released a version of the QuickTime video player that supports 64-bit. I’m starting to doubt they ever will at this point. So for evaluating scoring to video and 32-bit-only plugins, having both versions is a nice boost. It looks like the Demo app functionality is not restricted in any way other than the 30-day trial.

Again, I’m immediately made aware that this is a port that doesn’t fully respect the Windows conventions, as the application refuses to open in the location I last left it when I shut it down. Easily fixed, however, with a tweak via Edit / Preferences:  just change General / Document / Startup Options to “Reopen last file”, which appears to also preserve the window settings. Nice, intuitive – didn’t have to go groping through the manual for that little tidbit.

Next obvious annoyance: the app is definitely NOT using ClearType for text. The text on the screen is downright hard to read in some spots (I’m at 1920×1080 here). It looks like a VGA signal, which doesn’t work well with some of the VERY tiny numbers and text. Didn’t find a way to make that any clearer, at least with a few minutes’ searching the Preferences. Again, another obvious symptom of a port. I try out the nice feature of changing a value by dragging and, after a few changes, the program crashes and goes non-responsive. I have to use Task Manager to kill it. Would have been a genuine issue if I’d been an hour into a mixing session and had this happen.

Setting up MIDI was very painless (as it should be, these days), and I was able to bounce through the MIDI tutorial in the “Getting Started” guide. However, contrary to the instructions there, one cannot change the name of a MIDI interface shown in the “Bundle” (??) by double-clicking. Doesn’t work. Alt-click, Ctrl-click, Right-click, Double-click… none of those provide a way to change the MIDI interface name either.

I find that I do like the abililty to arbitrarily drag a window/view off and onto the “Consolidated” (?) window. And I already like the MIDI editor – relatively easy to size, zoom and scroll it as needed, and the cursor doesn’t do anything wierd or unexpected if I accidentally click, etc.

More later…


Rewriting History

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Speaking of Redu-ing stuff… I spent a few hours this evening trying to restore some of the Giant City tunes Bob Bruning originally collected on CD a few years back. Given what he had to work with – which I believe was mostly cassette copies of copies of demos and live recordings – the quality was good but not great. Certainly fun to listen to… even if you had to be there for some of it.

I re-ripped a few of these off of the CDs Bob sent and tried to restore some of the original quality by subtracting out some of the mud, boosting the dynamic range and restoring some of the low and high end. This was done with SONAR and a bundled mastering plugin called Vintage Channel VC-64. The Sonitus:fx Compressor and Reverb plug-ins are also used. In some cases the cassette tape hiss is enhanced a little, unfortunately, but I consider that a small price to pay for the added clarity.

Also, as I was doing this, I discovered a tune I’d completely forgotten about. For some reason I’d never pulled this from the CDs and neglected to include it on the “Compositions” page. It’s a great tune – Tell Me Lies. IMHO, we’re coming around to a point in the industry where it’s quite likely fashionable again. Along with the rest… hey, it’s nostalgia at its best.

These files are a little larger than usual – in the 6-10MB range. I apologize if the d/l speed is a little slower here than usual. My provider seems to be rationing bandwidth on-and-off lately.

Tell Me Lies – 6.8M

Oh, Money! – 8.0M
Fly Away – 9.5M
Wizards – 8.0M
I Woudn’t Want To Be Like You – 9.3M
The Answer’s In The Music – 6.5M
Seems To Me – 7.5M
The Same Old Thing – 8.0M
Shakin’ Me – 7.4M
You’re The Only One – 8.1M
All I Wanna Do – 8.0M
Say Something Right – 6.7M

Tequila Sunrise Redux

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The vocal on this is a little embarrassing (and a lot incomplete – not sure if I’ll get a chance to finish it), but I wanted to post it just because the guitar stuff on it is so much fun – done by my brother Tony.

This was a mid-term project for Arranging: Rhythm Section. The assignment was to take an existing composition and (re-)arrange it. I chose Tequila Sunrise, cranked up the tempo, transposed it up a step (to Amaj), created a chorus (based on an early version of the Eagles’ original), added an intro section and an ending. Everything is synthesized except for the vocal and the guitars – please excuse the flat (non-automated) mix, which isn’t intended to sound great, just demonstrate the arrangement. If the solo at the end sounds in any way funky, blame me not Tony – I cloned it and pulled some key-shifting tricks to get it to (mostly) fit.

Enough qualifiers… enjoy!

Tequila Sunrise Redux – MP3 – 192kBps – 5.2MB – 3:48 min.

Score: Tequila Sunrise Redux – PDF

A very nice surprise

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Don’t miss this

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I laughed. I cried. Sue me.

On the Value of Old Friends

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One of my oldest friends, Brian Malouf, emailed me at about 2 this AM to remark on the Giant City music files archived on the Compositions page. Blasts from the past and all that. It occurred to me that there were actually a number of other tracks I hadn’t uploaded and linked to. Fixed that. Brian also offered some thoughts on digital recording that triggered my finally locating the answer to earlier confusion about mixing multiple audio tracks to a single stereo track using SONAR. The answer came as a function of looking for the information I needed to accurately pose the question. Duh: File / Export… It was almost embarrassing. Obviously, I’ve used these tools too long with just MIDI (and simplistically at that), and still haven’t completely shaken the “analog studio” thinking from the old days – where a mixed performance in its entirety would be recorded onto two-track. Computers… 30+ years and some aspects of them still escape me. Thanks, Brian.

And by the way, I was sorely remiss in not mentioning on that page that the guy who was actually responsible for collecting all the Giant City stuff in one place (i.e., two Audio CDs) some years ago was another old friend, Bob Bruning (faculty member at Hamilton Academy of Music). Thanks, Bob.

While up in MA training for my new job, I got together with another old friend, Brian (not Malouf ;-), from my Army days in Berlin back in the ’70s. We spent some time reminiscing about our off-base apartment on Paulinenstrasse (near Andrews Barracks), the enormous amounts we used to drink, the wacky schedule we used to work (and the wacky place in which we worked). Brian and his wife Barb also introduced me to one of the best margaritas I’ve had in a long time (several, actually). Thanks, Brian. I’m working on reverse-engineering the recipe… though it may take considerable experimentation!

Another old friend finally came back into the picture on Friday: on my way home from MA I stopped to pick up my Lyle 12-string (acoustic) guitar. The Lyle was a birthday present to myself when I first got to DLIWC (Monterey, CA) back in 1973, and I think I’ve mentioned elsewhere here that it’s one of the oldest things I personally own. Over the years it had gotten pretty literally beat to sh!t though, thanks to being lugged halfway around the world without a decent case, being stuck 8” into the sand one day when I took a soft spill on my motorcycle (it was bungie-corded to the sissy bar), being left in extremely dry air year after year here in CT, etc. Eventually the top warped, the neck bowed, it became virtually unplayable, and sat in an old cardboard guitar case (heh… one I got from Brian Malouf back in ’78, IIRC) for about 10 years.

With the resurgent interest in music last year, I recalled the number of times the sound of that guitar – just an inexpensive Japanese instrument of no real note (NPI) – had been complimented by musicians, studio engineers and the like. It had a beefy low end that’s not characteristic of most 12-strings, which are typically pretty reedy-sounding. Anyway, after looking around for quite a while, our friend Deja referred me to Jane Hamel up at the Fretted Instrument Workshop in Amherst (MA) who agreed to restore it.

“Restore” is actually not the word for what Jane did to this instrument however. She essentially reinvented it, and it now plays and sounds better than any Martin or Taylor 12-string I’ve ever heard, including the T5 another old friend – Bryan … yes, I have a number of friends named Bri/yan – brought over some months ago (Bryan’s T5 still gets the award for most beautiful 12 I’ve ever seen, though – sorry Jane ;-). A new grade-A sitka spruce top was the main ingredient, but everything else was fixed (again, an understatement) and it’s now more of a joy to play than ever. In fact I’m giving my sore fingertips a rest today after having played it most of Friday night and yesterday. Thanks, Jane – you did more than a beautiful job on this old friend of mine!

Saner Days

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OK… so this is the first time in recent memory – or hell, extended memory for that matter – that I’ve actually had a better computer system at work than the one I personally own and use at home. I can’t decide whether or not it’s a good thing I recently updated/upgraded my home system. If I hadn’t, I’d definitely be spoiling for a new one right now.

On balance, the new job has definitely been a positive change. I suppose fifteen years of contracting/consulting and/or working for (both real and imagined) startup companies can have a tendency to make one jaded, but the past four days have been quite a pleasant surprise. Facilities are nice and the people are genuine and very friendly, which I wasn’t expecting from a large, “impersonal” corporation. Benefits: excellent, plus. Also, I’ll be getting formal product training right off, which I think is extremely cool (it’s the way I’d do things, anyway, if I ruled the planet).

I’ve already had several deep technical discussions with the team, and it’s apparent the last five years’ experience will definitely be valuable (and valued – what a concept!). The project is pretty much at the start, so I’ll get a good chance to pitch ideas, which is always fun whether or not they’re ultimately used. And the folks there seem more than open and interested in actually listening and considering, which will be a welcome change.

Plus, I ran into Mark – a drummer with whom I played briefly about 10-11 years ago in a galaxy far, far away! That was pretty cool. He’s still going strong (check out here and here), which is great to see. Didn’t know he was working there. Wonder who else I’ll run into.

I’ve finally done some more audio experimenting and learned a few new things.

Thing One: the Larrivée OM-09E’s L.R. Baggs iMix Notch system turns out to have a very distinctly ‘digital’ sound when direct-connected to the Tascam AI (with or without an in-line preamp). I can’t decide if it’s square-wavey or sawtoothy, but it’s definitely not anything approaching the nice, round sine-wavey sound I hear coming out of the thing acoustically. This is kind of a bummer, actually, and what’s worse – I didn’t notice it before – but now I can ‘hear’ this not only in recorded tracks but coming out of the amp when I plug it in, as well. Big, big difference from the (much nicer) recorded sound I get from acoustically mic’ing with the Rode condenser. One might say that’s to be expected, but I would have thought the electronics in the guitar would produce something that’s a little more faithful to the actual acoustic sound, given that it’s far from a low-end instrument (and system). Almost kind of glad I didn’t have one put in the Lyle, now – which, by the way, will positively, absolutely, definitely, no-way-it-won’t be home on the 27th (yes, smartass… of this month!).

Thing Two: having done mostly one-the-fly mixes of multitimbral MIDI synth stuff up to now, it has occurred to me that I’ll be needing to do some creative patching to mix multiple audio tracks down to stereo. I may be missing something obvious, but it’s certainly looking like I need some way (like an SPDIF cable, etc.) to feed the mixed output back into the Tascam in order to capture and record it in SONAR on a stereo track (or pair of mono tracks). More reading needed…

In other news – I’ve been watching the John Adams miniseries on DVD. Very fascinating stuff. Quite different how the violence of the time period has been consciously played down – happening ‘off camera’, as it were – in favor of showing its actual effect(s) on the individuals. This puts a lot more demands on the dialog and the actors, IMHO. Oddly, the music strikes me as a combination of Greg Edmondson’s work on Firefly and some of the passages from Last of the Mohicans (either Edelman or Jones – not sure which). It fits, though some of the scenes depicting The People singing seem a bit strained. Might be intentional, as the times were most definitely strained, to say the least.

New Horizons

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I know… lame. But it’s accurate, at least.

I’ve spilled the news to everyone who might care, so I don’t think there’s any problem noting here that… I’ll be changing jobs at the end of next week!

As it almost always is in a situation like this, it’s with mixed feelings, but mostly very good ones in this case. Five years is the longest I’ve spent with any one employer… ever. So there’s some trepidation mixed in there as well. Okay, not much. I’m currently working for a five-plus-year-old company that was recently “rebooted” back to start-up status, and I’m moving to a corporation with over 7,000 employees worldwide, so…

I’ve actually got three bona fide offers at this point, but one stands out very clearly, and I’ve pretty much decided on that one. I’ll be using all the experience I’ve collected over the last five years PLUS finally getting a chance to do work in 3D visualization. That’ll be a first, professionally, since a very short stint as Project Manager for Philips Medical Systems, working on a system that converted CT and MRI images to 3D graphical renderings for radiological diagnosis. That system used the PIXAR image computer, and guess who was pretty much over-the-moon when he got sent out there for two weeks of training – working with and learning from guys like Don Schreiter and Ed Catmull. The Philips system development was snatched back to Holland by corporate when the technology got interesting (read: marketable), which was pretty disturbing. I’ve wanted to do something practical with 3D ever since. This will be a chance. More to come on that.

The Lyle is still in the shop as I type this. Jane said it would take some time, but we’re going into the ninth month here. I haven’t said anything and, although it would be nice to have it here to play, it’s fine with me as long as it takes. Plenty of other instruments here that I’m not practicing on enough anyway.

Anyway – wish me luck!

A new year

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Ok, sorry, yeah… I got a tad distracted there. I guess if blogging is cathartic, then I haven’t had much need to cathart, as it were.

Been kind of bouncing back and forth between being very busy (at work) and very busy playing / writing and experimenting with the audio stuff. The crap has hit the fan at work and for a while it was all I could do when I got home to fall into a chair and watch an hour or two of CSI before crashing.

Before work got busy, I’d actually gotten to point of fairly comfortable fingerpickingness on the new Larrivée – an OM-09E, as it eventually turned out. That arrived around mid-October from Trinity Guitars (highly recommended, by the way). Jim Holler did a nice job with the strap peg (on the heel, as requested) and the instrument is just a joy to play. It’s a bit unique in that it was pretty much complete and ready to ship as an OM-09, and its inside label reads as such. Jim had them add the “E” – the L.R. Baggs Onboard iMix Notch System pickup – after it had been completed. After only a few days with it, a fairly complete musical idea kind of birthed itself, which was a little spooky. I’m guessing it was the combined inspiration of a new instrument, a completely new style of playing, and having just read a great script my cousin is working to get produced: Red Gold. If the script is any indication, it could be a real classic. He’s earned it.

The ‘studio’ is now pretty much complete, for what it’s worth, with the addition of a Rode NT-1A condenser microphone (for acoustic instruments and vocals). I’ve since pretty much completed the Red-Gold-inspired tune and have started experimenting with recording. There are a few (actually, a lot of) passages I can’t play quite as cleanly as I’d like yet, so it’s good practice. Ultimately this will be an orchestral piece anyway, but it does sound pretty nice on acoustic 6-string, I must say. For fun, I did record a quickie cello part, just to see how it sounded. It’s going to be cool.

And I realize how long it’s been since I last wrote, as I’ll also note that I finally broke down and took the Lyle up to Northampton to have it restored by Jane Hamel at The Fretted Instrument Workshop back in September. I’m guessing it should be just about ready by now. Perfect timing to bring the Larrivée up for it’s first set-up, now that it’s played-in and I know what I want the action like. A friend brought over his beautiful, new, one-of-a-kind Taylor T-5 12-string just before New Year’s. Wow. If the Lyle plays anything at all like that once Jane is done with it (and she’s indicated that it will), I will be a very happy camper. If she can do the same with the Larrivée, even better!

As you may see below, Tommy has become a fixture in my day-to-day. I have purchased most of his CDs, a couple of instructional / performance DVDs, and spend way too much time watching videos of him on YouTube. The guy is just awe-inspiring. Part of that, I think, is how accessible he seems – both while playing and in his interviews. To sit and listen to his charming, rather quiet manner, you’d never know that he’s probably the best all-around guitarist on the planet right now. In fact, I should add him to the list of inspiration noted above, as listening to his playing was also a big part of that. It was quite a shock to hear about his recently canceled tour (health problem). Here’s hoping the guy stays healthy, active and playing for many more decades to come! I have to get to at least one TommyFest!

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